Daydreamer Melisande Avenelle wishes all the social engagements her mother insists on would just disappear so she can focus on her quilt making. Where some artists see images in dabs of paints, Melisande imagines landscapes made from the fabric of the dresses worn at a tea party. After her refusal of the third man put forth by famed matchmaker Madame Treszka, she’s informed she must choose from three groom candidates arranged by her mother. Thinking Texas can’t be as bad as Newport, Rhode Island, for social engagements, Melisande boards a westbound train with the matchmaker as chaperone.
Widower Quinton Azar has a six-year-old son who wants a mama. Since his late wife’s passing four years ago, Quint divides his days between breaking horses for the Army and parenting his son with no time for courting. His mother manages the household and tends to her youngest grandchild, although she would love to move to Galveston to live with her sister. The telegram announcing the arrival of his mail-order bride—a woman his mother corresponded with—on the next stagecoach is a shock. Quint drives the wagon into town, intending to pay for her return ticket. The beautiful, but disheveled, woman who disembarks the stage is too dazed to trust traveling on her own. What has his mother arranged for his life?
If only she could back home, and in her sewing room, working on her latest fabric creation. She looked toward the closest window. Ah, to be outside and breathing the fresh breezes off the Rhode Island Sound. Through the glass spread a bounty of pink buds on a cherry tree. If she gazed long enough, the edges of the tiny blossoms would blur, creating clouds of—
“Did you hear me, Miss Avenelle?”
Jerking her head to the left, she cleared her throat. Had the man across from her asked something? Earlier, his droning, nasal voice delivering his highly acclaimed poem scattered her thoughts, like they escaped ahead of a buzzing bee.
Abner Thistle arched a bushy eyebrow and looked down his long nose, an action which flattened his double chin.
“No, Mister Thistle, I didn’t. Could you please repeat it?” Melisande dared not look in her mother’s direction for fear of the condemnation she’d see. Mother dragged her to this poetry reading for the specific purpose of encouraging another meeting with the acclaimed poet.
Please don’t ask what I think of your work. She would hate to have to admit she’d been transfixed by Penny Dunbar’s gown of green faille silk patterned with yellow and white flowers. With a reinforcing layer of muslin, the fabric would be perfect for the patch of landscape in her latest quilt hanging commission.
“I asked if you had any thoughts on the poem I read.” He wedged the Delft-patterned tea cup under his long mustache and slurped. His watery blue gaze stared across the low table between their seats.
She expected to see drips falling from the whiskers but they remained dry. “Oh, yes. Of course, you’d want to know.” How could she politely verbalize she really had no thoughts about the plight of a slug working its way across a gravel pathway? She’d read the great poets—Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Phillis Wheatley, Robert Burns —and Mister Thistle would not be remembered among their number. “Well, sir…” She glanced down, wishing her cup wasn’t empty so she might stall by taking another sip. “I like to spend time in our garden and appreciated your inclusion of a lesser-known insect in your work. Not everyone appreciates how hard life is for slugs.” A statement containing a compliment and an indication that she had been listening must prove worthy of polite conversation.
His brows pinched, and he huffed out a breath. “Not an insect, Miss Avenelle. Slugs are gastropods.” He set aside his cup on a nearby table and leaned his elbows on his thighs. “I chose the slug because its vital purpose of ridding the garden of dead vegetation is often overlooked. I thought the imagery was so clear. But you appear to have missed the entire spine of the poem. I was making a comparison about how hard man must struggle through the dead ends of life to achieve each and every reward.”
Why did he use the word spine about a creature who possessed none? Telling her she didn’t understand the poem’s theme bordered on rudeness. Rather than dwell on hurt feelings, she admitted, at least to herself, she just hadn’t cared. “Oh, I see.” But she truly didn’t. If that’s what he meant to say, why not use those words? Weren’t poets supposed to be masters of the English language?
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